When cooking, saffron and turmeric are sometimes used interchangeably. Although these spices can make a good substitute for each other, they are actually quite different.
The main difference between saffron and turmeric is that saffron comes from a flower, and turmeric comes from the root of a plant in the ginger family. However, there are a few other factors that also differentiate the two flavorful spices. Learn more about the differences between saffron and turmeric.
What is Saffron?
Saffron is a luxurious spice that comes from the stigmas and styles of the Crocus Sativus flower. For over 3,000 years, many cultures and civilizations have used saffron to enhance the flavors of their meals.
It is typically lighter and more floral than turmeric and looks different due to its crimson red stigmas and yellow styles. Aside from cooking, saffron has also been used for medicine, dyes, and fragrance.
Where Saffron Comes From
While Saffron is believed to have originated in Greece, the leading cultivators of the spice are now found in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The actual flower that saffron comes from grows best in dry, moderate climates, so you won’t find it in tropical or polar regions. Some of the best saffron comes from Kashmir, La Mancha, Iran, Afghanistan, and Greece.
How to Use Saffron
Many traditional European and Persian dishes call for high-quality saffron. Whether it’s a paella, pilaf, or a dessert, like pannacotta or rice pudding, saffron elevates the flavors and tastes of whatever dish it’s added to.
However, you want to be mindful of how much saffron you add to a single dish, as too much of it can create a bitter taste. You also want to make sure you’re not just using raw saffron. Consider soaking or toasting your saffron and adding it to a glass of almond milk or tea.
Health Benefits of Saffron
Like other spices, saffron is said to have many health benefits. Studies show that saffron is full of antioxidants, which can help with mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression and PMS symptoms. It has also been linked to other potential health benefits like lowering blood sugar, lowering the risk of heart disease, and improving eyesight and memory.
Pricing of Saffron
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. That’s because it’s the most labor-intensive spice to grow, harvest, and process. The saffron flower only blooms once every fall, and it’s estimated that you need 1,000 flowers to produce one ounce of the spice.
Additionally, each flower has three tiny stigmas in its center that make up the different grades of saffron. Because the stigmas are so small, they need to be hand-picked, which adds to the labor. After they are harvested, they need to be dried for around 12 hours. This level of work contributes to why the spice is so expensive.
What is Turmeric
Turmeric is a flavorful spice from a perennial root plant in the ginger family. It grows underground and is dried and crushed into a powder. Unlike the red color and sweet flavor of saffron, turmeric is deep gold and has a bitter, earthy taste.
It’s used in many savory dishes and curries and sometimes even sweet meals. While it is an essential ingredient in many Asian and Indian dishes, it is also used as a coloring agent and plays a role in natural medicine.
Where Turmeric Comes From
The turmeric plant is native to Indonesia and Southern India and is mainly cultivated on the mainland and islands of the Indian ocean. So, while saffron needs a dry, moderate environment to thrive, turmeric is found in more tropical regions.
How to Use Turmeric
One of the essential ingredients of an Indian dish is turmeric. While it’s most commonly found in curry, it can also be used to season grilled meat and poultry, add flavor to roasted vegetables, in dressings or vinaigrettes, and in drinks including smoothies, teas, and milk.
Health Benefits of Turmeric
For over 4,000 years, many cultures have used turmeric for natural medicinal purposes. It contains the chemical curcumin, which is said to help with inflammation and contains antioxidants. Aside from its anti-inflammatory properties, other studies link turmeric to aiding digestive issues, improving heart health, and helping to prevent some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.
Pricing of Turmeric
Turmeric is an affordable spice that you can use to elevate your cooking. Since it grows easily in tropical environments and is relatively easy to harvest, it’s not as labor-intensive as harvesting saffron. Once it’s cultivated, it’s dried and crushed into a powder and can then be packaged for purchase.
Know the Difference Between Saffron and Turmeric
Saffron and turmeric both provide enhanced flavors and aromas to the meals they’re added to. However, they are two different spices. They grow in opposite climates, are from entirely different plant families, and are harvested differently.
When you are trying to decide between saffron or turmeric, determine how much you’re willing to spend on it, and then think about whether you want a sweet or savory flavor. But, if you’re in a pinch, you’re safe to substitute turmeric for saffron.